Isaiah 51

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

Home Gospel Tracts Bible Studies Jim Melough Contact


A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2007 James Melough

51:1.  “Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewen, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.”


It is one thing to read God’s Word, but another thing to obey it, for knowledge divorced from obedience brings chastisement rather than blessing.


Righteousness in the present context means justice or redress.


The rock is a symbol of Christ, and as what is cut from a rock is of the same character, the lesson being taught is that we are to keep our eyes fixed on Him as our Example so that we may exhibit Christlikeness in our daily lives.  The literal rock being inanimate feels nothing when it is broken or crushed, but how different was it with the Rock from which we have been hewen!  What He suffered at Calvary eludes human comprehension.


Many understand the rock here to mean Israel’s ancestor Abraham.


The hole of the pit is a graphic portrait of our unsaved state. We were “dead in trespasses and in sins,” Ephesians 2:1, and but for cleansing in Christ’s blood must have descended into the eternal torment of that awful pit mentioned in Matthew 25:41-46, “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels .... And these shall to away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”  


51:2.  “Look unto Abraham your father, and the unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.”


Abraham was childless, and Sarah barren until the Lord gave them Isaac through whom they were miraculously multiplied.  Israel too, which was the least among the nations, and is still comparatively small, will be multiplied in the Millennium and made head of the nations.   But the ultimate application is to the Lord Jesus Christ: believers, the children whom the Father has given Him, being a multitude impossible to number.


51:3.  “For the Lord shall comfort Zion (Jerusalem): He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.”


This awaits fulfillment in the Millennium.  See also comments on Isaiah 35:1 in this present study.


51:4.  “Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment (justice) to rest for a light of the people.”


The NEB translates the latter part of this verse, “.... for my law shall shine forth ... and I will flash the light of my judgment over the nations ....” and TAYLOR renders the latter part, “for I will see that right prevails.”


51:5.  “My righteousness (deliverance) is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.”


The description continues to be of universal peace and blessing in the Millennium.


51:6. “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.


This directs us to the end of the Millennium when the present heavens and earth will be dissolved as recorded in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”


God’s righteousness justifies the belief that He will remove believers from the earth prior to that destruction, just as Scripture assures us that He will take believers of this present dispensation to heaven prior to the outpouring of the judgments of the impending Great Tribulation, see 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we (who are still living) shall be changed.”


“... the day of the Lord” refers to God’s destruction of the present heavens and earth at the end of the Millennium, and is to be distinguished from “the day of God” which refers to the eternal state that will follow that catastrophic judgment.


The eternal existence of God’s salvation is the guarantee that the believer can never loose it: the righteousness of Christ which clothes every saint cannot be lost.


51:7.  “Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.”


Those referred to as “... ye that know righteousness ... in whose heart is my law” are they who possess that knowledge not just theoretically but experimentally.  They are born-again believers, and God exhorts them to have no fear of the taunts and insults of men.  The Lord will preserve them, and His commendation and reward given at the Bema (His judgment seat), will be abundant compensation for everything they may have suffered here on earth for His sake, as it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him,” 1 Corinthians 2:9, and relative to loving Him, He Himself said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him,” John 14:15,21, the practical display of that love being demonstrated in love for all believers, see John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”


In this, as in everything else, the Lord Jesus Christ is our perfect Example, and relative to His response to the reproaches and revilings of men it is recorded that, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously,” 1 Peter 2:23, see also Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”


51:8.  “For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.”


As moths devour garments, and worms wool, so will unbelievers be consumed by God’s wrath, their ultimate end being consignment to eternal torment in the lake of fire “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” see Mark 9:44,46 and 48.  In stark contrast with the terrible eternal fate of the unconverted is the unending blessedness of the redeemed.


51:9.  “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generation of old.  Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab [Egypt], and wounded the dragon?”


The Amplified Bible translates this verse as follows: “[Zion now cries to the Lord God of Israel] Awake, awake, put on strength and might, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of long ago.  Was it not You who cut Rahab [Egypt] in pieces, Who pierced the dragon [symbol of Egypt]....”


As Babylon represents the world’s false religious systems, so does Egypt symbolize its great commercial and financial institutions, and here the redeemed, represented by Zion, call upon the Lord to execute judgment upon that same sinful world. Believers of this present age however, are imbued with a very different spirit: we are to seek, not the destruction of unbelievers, but rather their salvation, the Lord’s command being, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” Mark 16:15.


51:10.  “Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the water of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?”


The “it” here is the arm of the Lord which divided the Red Sea so that His redeemed people could cross dry-shod out of Egypt into Canaan, that miraculous crossing being a type of the believer’s safe passage through the sea of unconverted humanity, on his way home to heaven.  It may also be a type of the rapture of the Church.


51:11.  “Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”


This points to the blessedness of Israel in the Millennium when their joy and gladness will be shared by all the nations, but it may be also a type of the eternal blessedness of the redeemed in heaven.


51:12.  “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass;”


This comforting assurance extends beyond the Israel of Isaiah’s day, and embraces every saint of every dispensation.  The believer need have no fear of those who can kill only the body which God will raise again, see Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  The One to be feared is not Satan, who lacks this power, but God, for He alone is omnipotent.


Man’s being “made as grass” has reference only to his human body, which will be raised again either at the resurrection of life or of damnation, depending on whether he dies as a believer or as a reprobate.


51:13.  “And forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy?  And where is the fury of the oppressor?”


It is folly for an obedient believer to fear the wrath of man who can do no more than God orders or permits, see Proverbs 29:25 and James 1:20, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe .... For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”  We ought to fear however, when our activity is impelled only by the energy of the flesh.


51:14.  “The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail.”


The primary application is to Israel held captive in Babylon, but the comfort is also ours who live here in mortal bodies in a hostile world.


Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior has delivered us from going down into “the pit,” i.e., hell, for we have the assurance that, “... to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” 2 Corinthians 5:8, “which is far better,” Philippians 1:23.


Since having bread implies satisfaction, the assurance of the last clause of the verse is that we will be perfectly satisfied when we behold our Savior’s face in heaven, see Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake, with thy likeness,” “righteousness” here having reference to our righteousness which will then be perfect, with nothing of the flesh to mar; and “satisfied” meaning to be completely full, sated, leaving nothing more to be desired.


51:15.  “But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The Lord of hosts (armies) is his name.”


The reference is to God’s division of the Red Sea to enable Israel to escape from the pursuing Egyptians whom He then drowned in those same waters.


51:16.  “And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, thou art my people.”


The Amplified rendering of this verse reads, “And I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you in the shadow of My hand, that I may fix the new heavens as a tabernacle, and lay the foundations of a new earth, and say to Zion, You are My people.”


The words are addressed to those believers who will pass out of the Millennium into the eternal state, and who will enjoy eternal blessings when the present heavens and earth are replaced with new ones, see Isaiah 65:17, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind,” and 2 Peter 3:13, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.


Zion (Jerusalem) as used here designates all Millennial age believers, Jews and Gentiles alike.


51:17.  “Awake, awake, stand up O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.”


“... the cup of His fury, etc.,” is a synonym for the terrible tribulation age judgments that will ravage not just Jerusalem, but the whole world.


51:18.  “There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up.”


In spite of her claim to be God’s chosen people apostate Israel had not produced one son capable of showing her her error, and when that one Son was given by God she, failing to recognize Him, crucified Him.


51:19.  “These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?”


“Two kinds of calamities have befallen you, but who feels sorry and commiserates you?  They are desolation and destruction [on the land and city], and famine and the sword [on the inhabitants]; how shall I comfort you or by whom?” The Amplified Bible.


This declares the impossibility of Israel’s being comforted or delivered by anyone other than God, and the same truth applies to us in the midst of seeming calamity, our comfort being conveyed in the assurance that “All things work together for good to them that love God ....” Romans 8:28.


51:20.  “Thy sons are fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets, as a wild bull (antelope) in a net: they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God.”   


This has been fulfilled more than once in Jerusalem’s sad history, as when she fell to Babylon in 537 BC, and to the Romans in AD 70, these two sackings being but the foreshadowings of her coming trials in the Great Tribulation.


“... wild bull” is generally translated “antelope.”


51:21.  “Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine:”


Israel’s being “drunken, but not with wine” means that her sinful conduct was the spiritual equivalent of that of a drunken man, so befuddled had her thinking become relative to the difference between right and wrong.


51:22.  “Thus saith thy Lord the Lord, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again;”


“... thy Lord the Lord” emphasizes the unique relationship existing between Israel and God: her Lord is the Almighty, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator.


His taking away “the cup of trembling ... of my fury” is His assurance that she has been forgiven, a condition that awaits fulfillment in the Millennium.


51:23.  “But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.”


“I will give it instead to your tormentors and oppressors ... those who said to you, ‘Lie down and we will walk over you; / and you made your backs like the ground beneath them, / like a roadway for passers-by,” is the NEB rendering of this verse.


This is the metaphoric description of what Israel has indeed suffered at the hands of the Gentiles countless times, and indicates the contempt in which she is still held today in the hearts of many; but things will be very different in the Millennium.  Then she will be promoted to the place of supremacy among the nations who will then consider it an honor to serve her. 



Some understand this description to be of what Israel suffered when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.



[Isaiah 52]

Home Gospel Tracts Bible Studies Jim Melough Contact

     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
Portions of this website are copyrighted by the authors, and
all permissions and title to copyrights have been granted to Boundless Partners, Inc.

© 2000-2007 James Melough, ©2008 Boundless Partners